Thursday, October 14, 2004

Jonah's Take

Jonah Goldberg has some interesting thoughts on the debate.


I've always thought the guy was unlikable. The clincher for me was the countless stories of him cutting to the head of lines with his Praetorian attitude — and chin! — bellowing, Do You Know Who I Am? He's a fop, he's a dandy. He's arrogant. He talks to you like you need it explained to you that you might find a slice of bacon in a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich.

I always thought that this would be the clincher. Contrary to what the people who think George W. Bush is highly concentrated evil might believe, George W. Bush really is the more likable candidate. Just imagine if the roles were reversed. Imagine if the Democrats nominated a guy like Bush. Democrats would love Bush's folksy style and his tell-it-like-it-is convictions and humor. And if the Republicans nominated a guy who managed to marry into Big Money (twice) — who talked like a 1920s banker and looked like he was born in blue-pinstripe diapers — Kerry would be the constant butt of class-warfare jokes and the like.


The problem for Bush is that in the first debate he wasn't the obviously more likable guy. His now much-ballyhooed scowls and his defensiveness took that advantage away. I don't know that Kerry actually became more likable in the first two debates, but I do think likability was removed as a factor. In the second debate, a much-improved Bush still seemed like he was trying to prove he could be a better debater. He was less defensive, but except for a couple of jokes he didn't try too hard to be himself and, hence, more likable. And under those circumstances, it's not shocking Bush would lose in a debate to John Kerry.

All of that changed Wednesday night. Not only did Bush beat Kerry on most questions of substance — I thought — but he came across as the infinitely more decent and genuine guy. When Kerry was asked questions about the minimum wage or health care, he switched to autopilot. Bing, bam, boom: Here's my four, five, six, seven-point plan to do this, that, and the other thing. But when Kerry was asked questions about his convictions, about his moral sense, about the kind of man he is, he wandered around like a drunk looking for his car in the wrong lot, bitterly muttering about how Dick Cheney's daughter is a lesbian. Bush talked about his faith, his wife, his moral center comfortably. He made fun of himself.

Kerry made fun of himself once too, but he chose poorly. Reminding voters of his grating billionaire wife is not wise politics, which is probably why he switched to talking about his mom. This was an intriguing move considering that Bush had just given sweet testimony about his wife. Not a few female readers emailed me to say they would not have been amused if their husbands had been asked to profess their love of them, only to be subjected to a speech about their mothers-in-law instead.

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